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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Looking for Zero

I took the bus to Five Points and wasn't completely sure what I was looking for.  There was an address on Marietta Street but it wasn't clear if it was inside or outside; since it was raining, I hoped it was inside.  Once I got there, there was a cluster of people at the door of the building, and the door was locked.  We were dressed for the weather, with raincoats and umbrellas.  Someone got a message that the performers were running late.  We waited.  Maybe some people knew what to expect, but I did not.

Then we saw them -- two women in blue robes, lying on the wet sidewalk across the street.

I am not sure what I expected, but this was not it.  It was a jarring moment.  And then, admitting to myself that I see people on the sidewalk all the time in terrible weather, and almost always I try to act like I don't see them and hurry on by.

The other dancers seemed to arrive from all directions, walking slowly toward the intersection.  By that point, the people who had been waiting had crossed the street and there were other people watching too, 

I don't know how many of the spectators had planned to be there, to see glo's "Starting from Zero" intervention, and how many just happened on the performance and were curious and stayed to watch, pulled into the unexpected sight of blue-robed dancers making impossible moves on sidewalks and open spaces near Five Points, and later in an underground space that I didn't even really know was there.  The dancers pulled us with them, sometimes literally (spectators became part of the performance periodically, when dancers would take our hand and gently guide us to where they wanted us to go), and together we lingered in the streets and and on the sidewalks around Five Points.

Eventually we went down a staircase to a space under the streets.  I knew, vaguely, that there was another level, down from what is street level, that was important for Atlanta's early history, when transportation meant railroads, not airplanes or automobiles, but I'd never been there, and I would not have gone there without a guide.  On that rainy Sunday afternoon, my guides were a blue-robed dancers, whose wet skin sparkled in the dim light and who reminded me -- too late to get a good picture of it -- Matisse's dancers, and who were fearless in this grim space.  We heard the trains and the dripping water.  A few cars tried to come through, and some of them were redirected in another direction.  

For that first Sunday performance, I didn't stay until the very end -- I needed to get home, and the buses don't run that frequently on Sunday (or for that matter, pretty much any other time) -- but I came back for the final performance last Saturday.  That was when I heard the story, from glo's Lauri Stallings, about how Atlanta's original zero milepost has for a long time been in a nondescript and apparently no longer used building that is owned by the Georgia Building Authority and used to house the Capitol Police.

There were barricades there that we walked through, but the building itself is surrounded by a fence that is locked. One of the few authentic remnants of Atlanta's history -- why Atlanta is where it is, and how transportation has been central to the city's history from the very beginning -- is in a place where you cannot go, even if you want to.

In Atlanta, we knock down whole neighborhoods to build stadiums and expressways, so maybe we should not be surprised that the zero milepost is locked up in a fenced-off empty building in an underground parking lot.  But I was, and I am so glad that glo took me and many of my fellow Atlantans on this exploration of our city.  I will never again see these places as I did before -- thanks for the adventure.

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